The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council is angling to make its home state the country's digital health hub, overtaking current leaders like California and New York, along with up-and-coming regions like Seattle, Austin and Nashville, according to an industry commissioned report from Deloitte.
The report provides some concrete measures the state can take in its ongoing fight to claim the crown of best biotech and digital health hub, including attracting leading IT experts, fostering statewide data interoperability and providing a fecund environment for entrepreneurs and startups. It included input from 20 C-suite healthcare execs, 10 Deloitte analysts and 254 digital health experts.
Massachusetts has some top hospitals (Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, Beth Israel Deaconess) and medical schools including Harvard Medical School and Tuft's, but the state is suffering from a digital health talent drain, MassBio found. The talent pool of digital health experts is smaller than ideal, and those with the most expertise leave to work in other states.
Though Massachusetts faces fierce competition from Silicon Valley, groups like MassBio and the state government's Digital Health Council think they can bring the state back to the forefront of the digital world — at least when it comes to health.
Digital health is one such sector where Massachusetts is seeking to pull ahead. January was the three-year anniversary of the start of the Digital Health Initiative, under which Gov. Charlie Baker and business leaders formed a 38-member state advisory council, a $26 million venture capital fund and two startup incubators.
The 34-year-old trade association plans to launch new digital health support programs along with rallying support for government and private initiatives, according to the report.
MassConnect.DH, a mentorship initiative to prop up early state digital health companies, is slated to go live this year. MassBio, which represents more than 1,100 biotech and life sciences companies and organizations, also wants legislation promoting digital health, a digital health agency in state government and more government funding.
In addition to the talent pool issue, data access is a challenge, as the state's current health IT infrastructure is "archaic and difficult to access," according to MassBio. The lack of interoperability or standardization makes it hard to analyze health data beyond the base level of the hospital or payer.
Culture is also an issue. Despite the thriving healthcare ecosystem in Massachusetts, players are loath to work together. Though Boston was ranked the nation's top startup community in 2016 and 2017 by startup network 1776 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, MassBio noted "the prevailing culture at leading providers is one of trying to develop digital health solutions in-house," which could hurt cross-sector innovation and startup growth.
One solution could be accountable care organizations. MassBio noted providers were more likely to adopt health IT tools when they'd assumed financial risk in value-based care models, in line with a Health Affairs study finding a Massachusetts ACO offering telemedicine services increased overall visits by 80% from 2014 to 2017.